Sun, 01 Oct 2023


Director: Jz Itami
Screenplay: Jz Itami
Stars: Tsutomu Yamazaki (Gor), Nobuko Miyamoto (Tampopo), Kji Yakusho (Man in White Suit), Ken Watanabe (Gun), Rikiya Yasuoka (Pisuken), Kinz Sakura (Shhei), Yoshi Kat (Noodle-Making Master), Hideji "taki (Rich Old Man), Fukumi Kuroda (Man in White Suit's Mistress), Setsuko Shinoi (Old Man's Mistress), Yoriko Dguchi (Pearl Diver), Masahiko Tsugawa (Supermarket Manager), Yoshihiro Kat (Man in White Suit's Henchman)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1985
Country: Japan


Jz Itami's Tampopo is an amusing, warm-hearted, delightfully quirky populist celebration of culinary pleasure. The film takes its title from one of the primary characters, but it might as well have been titled Ramen, because the uniquely Japanese dish-which consists of wheat noodles in broth, seasoned with miso, and usually topped with slices of pork and scallions-is the star of the show. Itami uses the simple dish as a vehicle for exploring both the pleasures of good food and the importance of craftsmanship in creating it. Much is made about how to both make ramen properly and how to consume it for maximum pleasure; Tampopo is a film that celebrates creation and consumption in equal measure, showing them to be flip sides of the same coin (Itami does the same with film viewing, as well, opening the movie with a bit of meta-commentary in which a white-suited gangster explains how to properly watch the movie itself). As Stanley Kauffman noted in his review back in 1987, "it deals heartily with fundamentals."

The titular character, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), is a widow who has inherited a meager noodle shop that she must maintain in order to support herself and her young son. Her ramen is adequate at best, and her business is pretty slow until the arrival of two truckers: Gor (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe), surprising connoisseurs of ramen who are particularly adept at articulating what makes it work or not. Tampopo begs Gor to help her improve her ramen in order to save her business, which he does by training her and teaching her how to observe the tricks of the trade from other chefs.

That central narrative is interrupted in regular intervals by various vignettes that are loosely connected in terms of story, but deeply intertwined in terms of the film's various themes relating to culinary delight and social mores. Most of these vignettes are amusing and/or deliberately strange. We get a scene in which a finishing teacher instructs a group of young women on how to eat their spaghetti without slurping, only to have them all begin slurping it deliriously when they hear another patron at the restaurant doing just that. There is a bit about a homeless man breaking into a restaurant to cook himself rice and eggs, a subversive scene in which a young man bucks the trend of his business associates by not ordering the exact same thing at a restaurant that the boss ordered, and a sex scene involving the aforementioned gangster (Kji Yakusho), his mistress (Fukumi Kuroda), and a number of food items, including a raw egg yolk that they slide back and forth in an extended open-mouth kiss.

Itami, who began as an actor before shifting behind the camera with his feature debut The Funeral (1984), which was similarly episodic in structure, strikes a unique tone in Tampopo by playing with various genre conventions to make the otherwise indelibly strange story feel vaguely familiar. Itami has described the film as "Shane with ramen" (the film's tagline was "The First Japanese Noodle Western"), as the cowboy-hat-wearing Gor essentially plays the role of the western hero who rides into town (literally on a big rig), saves the day by turning Tampopo's forgettable noodle shop into a neighborhood hit, and then, his work being done, rides out of town. Itami throws in other bits as well, including a training montage right out of the Rocky series and a sense of idiosyncratic humor that would have made Luis Buuel proud. The film doesn't always work as a whole, especially because its random wanderings away from the central narrative make it difficult to become more than only surface involved in Tampopo's plight, but its individual moments often come close to touching the sublime.

Tampopo Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio1.85:1

Japanese Linear PCM 1.0 monaural


  • The Making of Tampopo (1986) documentary
  • Video interview with actor Nobuko Miyamoto
  • Video interview with food stylist Seiko Ogawa
  • Video interviews with ramen scholar Hiroshi Oosaki and chefs Sam White, Rayneil De Guzman, Jerry Jaksich, and Ivan Orkin
  • Rubber Band Pistol, Itami's 1962 debut short film
  • Video essay on the film's themes of self-improvement and mastery of a craft
  • Trailer
  • Essay by food and culture writer Willy Blackmore
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateApril 25, 2017

    Time to throw out that old Fox Lorber nonanamorphic DVD from 2000! Criterion's new Blu-ray of Tampopo, which marks the film's high-definition debut in Region 1, boasts an impressive new 4K transfer made from the original 35mm camera negative that was approved by Jz Itami's longtime cinematographer Yonezo Maeda. The image is a striking improvement over the 17-year-old DVD, with a much sharper, clearer image that features brighter, bolder colors, darker blacks, and significantly better detail. The digitally restored image is clear while still maintaining a slight softness and grain presence. The monaural soundtrack was remastered from the original 35mm magnetic track and sounds very good. Criterion has stacked the supplements on this disc, starting with the feature-length documentary The Making of Tampopo (1986), which functions as a kind of video diary for Itami (who also narrates), documenting all of the details that went into the film's production. Criterion has also assembled an impressive array of new video interviews with actor Nobuko Miyamoto (11 min.), food stylist Seiko Ogawa (16 min.), and ramen scholar Hiroshi Oosaki and chefs Sam White, Rayneil De Guzman, Jerry Jaksich, and Ivan Orkin (22 min.). There is also a new 10-minute video essay by filmmakers Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos about the development of the film's themes of self-improvement and craftsmanship. Plus, we get Rubber Band Pistol, Itami's 1962 debut short film, and an original theatrical trailer.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3)


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